C.A.T: Pacific Ocean Blue

Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)

I’ve been on a real Beach Boys kick lately. Maybe it’s because I recently saw them live, maybe it’s the warm summer weather, or maybe it’s some good vibrations. This week celebrates what many music critics consider to be a “lost classic”. Making little impact upon it’s release, this album saw a rise in popularity in later decades. The album is Pacific Ocean Blue and it’s the debut album from Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson. Arguably the best Beach Boys related album since Pet Sounds, Pacific Ocean Blue is an album of raw power and serene beauty.

The middle child of the Wilson family, Dennis was considered the dark horse of The Beach Boys clan. His bad boy persona, addictions, and connections to Charles Manson made him a compelling if not controversial figure. His presence within the group grew in the seventies as group leader Brian Wilson battled personal demons and soon enough Dennis emerged as a talented singer/songwriter. In 1977 Dennis took his growing catalog of songs and recorded Pacific Ocean Blue, a soulful and strikingly affectionate record. Far more ambitious or compelling than anything The Beach Boys had done in years. Pacific Ocean Blue is a bright pearl in an otherwise dark era for the band.

The first surprise of Pacific Ocean Blue is how unlike The Beach Boys it sounds. With the exception of the upbeat “What’s Wrong” the songs on Pacific Ocean Blue are pure unadulterated Dennis Wilson. Wilson is soulful, emotional, and even at times sorrowful. There’s always been a certain sadness to Dennis Wilson’s gravelly voice. This could be partly attributed to his damaging addiction to alcohol and drugs. Though in way it’s that grittiness that makes Dennis’ voice so memorable.

What’s astounding is that such a dark and mature songwriter was hiding among an otherwise upbeat pop group. The opening track “River Song” is a gospel-like epic, while songs like “Thoughts of You” and “Time” carry a haunting sadness. In addition to vocal, piano, and drumming duties, Wilson co-produces alongside friend Gregg Jakobson to create a a complex listening experience. Like his older brother, Dennis is a fan of unconventional arrangements and uses a wide array of instruments and ideas. A song like “Thoughts of You” stands out in my mind for it’s reverbed soaked vocals during the song’s bridge. It sounds like something Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters could have dreamed up while recording The Wall.

Dennis Wilson is my favorite Beach Boy. Not only for his appealing rebel persona, but for his ability as a mighty musical force. Unfortunately, this was the only full album that Wilson finished before his tragic death by drowning in 1983. It’s interesting to think where Wilson’s career could have went, but that would have conflicted with his “live fast, die young” lifestyle. Either way we were fortunate to have received such a complex album from such a complex man.

Favorite Tracks: “River Song”, “Thoughts of You”, “Time”

Maximum Pain

Max Payne 3

Max Payne has come a long way. His first game portrayed him as an ever-smirking gun ballerino, filling the world with bullets as he lived through a sad tale of comic book noire, unraveling the mystery that left his wife and daughter dead. His second game strongly resembled the first, with light gameplay and storytelling improvements. Since then, Max got to put Mark Whalberg and Mila Kunis together pre-Ted and series developer Remedy went on to make Alan Wake. Rockstar left Max in the capable hands of Rockstar Vancouver, the Bully guys, and after years of waiting, Max Payne 3 is finally here.

Perhaps bored of the noire genre after last year’s L.A. Noire, Max Payne 3 feels more like a Michael Mann movie than the comic book style of the preceding games. After being thoroughly depressed by the first two games, Max has taken a bodyguard job in Sao Paulo, where he protects a family of rich idiots with extreme contempt. He spends his time drinking hard and popping pills, which is painful to watch. The game has a weird digital style, somewhat like the second Kane & Lynch game, although Max’s narration is back and still the best part of the game. Comic panels have been relegated almost entirely to loading screens.

As a shooter, Max Payne 3 is perfectly competent. Max can still dual wield and dive and go into slow motion at will. He can take cover now, too, as this is a modern third person shooter. Since health doesn’t regenerate, Max can take painkillers to heal, which feels weird given what a negative effect they have on him in story cinematics – you almost don’t want to heal him. If that’s the approach you take, know that if you take a fatal hit, you have a chance to kill the guy who would have killed you at the cost of one pill.

This is a very linear game, as you might expect. It’s a series of fights and cinematics, with the cinematics in the majority. Rockstar games are known for their storytelling, and if you’re just in this for fun Matrix-esque gunfights, you might be disappointed by the sheer amount of time spent watching. And you know what, that’s totally fair. This is a game, not a movie, and not a Metal Gear Solid game, either.

Max Payne 3 also introduces multiplayer to the series, for reasons unknown. All the prerequisites are there, leveling, character customization, game modes. But what makes Max Payne‘s combat special is slow motion moves, which are weird when everyone gets to be in slow mo at the same time. I played a match or two and then returned the game to GameFly. I guess it’s fine, but not for me.

If you have an extreme fondness for the series, Max Payne 3 will probably make you happy in some way. It feels different from the other games, but the story does pick up stream eventually, and the combat is fine. But for the uninitiated, this is probably a series you can continue to avoid, as you’d be better served trying a different story-focused third person shooter, such as the Uncharted series.

Sugar Rose

Sigur Rós – Valtari

Sigur Rós probably peaked with Takk… Ágætis Byrjun might be their magnum opus, ( ) was pretty amazing, but it was Takk… that saw the Icelandic band at the height of their powers, as they began turning their manic pixie dream music into something that resembled pop. Since then, they’ve maybe gone a little bit too far in that direction, reminding me, dare I say, of Bjork a little bit.

Valtari is out now, Sigur Rós’ sixth LP, and they’ve backpedalled from where they were going with the last album, Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust (still have never tried to say that aloud). The song lengths have gone up again, the title track is over eight minutes long. The music is back to being evocative and beautiful, it’s complex and decidedly less-accessible than the last time around.

But the problem is that it feels a bit like a retread. A hollow attempt to recapture some of their earlier wonder without a beautiful new idea or theme to build it around. The songs don’t build to the astounding crescendos of Takk…, nor are the textures are detailed and otherworldly as Ágætis Byrjun. Valtari is simply a less emotional experience than Sigur Rós’ best albums.

All that said, this is the worst time of the year to put out a Sigur Rós album, when all you want to listen to are fun summer jams, which are basically the antithesis to Sigur Rós. This could very well evolve into one of my favorite albums of the year when the winter gets here. And that’s something I’m definitely aware of, since I had a similar experience with the National not too long ago. I can tell you I already rather like Valtari now, and hope to like it more later.

Favorite Tracks: “Ég Anda,” “Rembihnútur,” “Varðeldur”

The Devil’s Radio

The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made the Radio

I’ve been sitting on this album for far too long. That’s Why God Made the Radio is the 29th album by the legendary Beach Boys. Reunited with master songsmith/producer Brian Wilson, That’s Why God Made the Radio was my most anticipated album of the year. Which is why it pains me to say it’s not very good. The problem is too much has changed for The Beach Boys to fully collaborate again. On one hand you have Brian Wilson still exploring experimental pop music and then you have Mike Love who still wants to sing about driving around and hanging out at the beach. It’s like no one can agree on what a 21st century Beach Boys’ album should sound like, so it suffers.

There are several shimmering moments on this record, but they’re easily forgotten in the grand scheme of things. The album opens with a darkly beautiful acapella piece, but it’s misleading as the rest of the album is fairly conventional. The title track has some excellent harmonies but the song itself isn’t much to rave about. It seems strange to hear someone in this day and age singing about the radio. Of course many of rock and roll’s early greats were raised on the radio. It’s just that the concept feels so dated and in-turn presents a group of musicians who seem out of touch. The following track “Isn’t it Time” is the closest to what I envisioned for a new Beach Boys record. It has the unique arrangement of a late 60s Beach Boy track while still feeling new. Still it feels overproduced and a little too squeaky clean for me to love it. Speaking of squeaky clean how about the song “Spring Vacation”? This is a song so heinous it should be put to death. I’d imagine a cornball rocker like this from Rascal Flatts, but The Beach Boys? I blame this on Mike Love.

Conceptually, I’m exhausted from hearing this band sing about the beach. I get it! They’re The Beach Boys! They have a lot of songs about the beach! Sing about other things! Look at Pet Sounds that explored a lot of different feelings and ideas. There’s just something unnatural about listening to 70 year old men singing about hanging out at the beach. It’s like they’re trying to recapture their youth instead of learning to move forward.

I like the fact that The Beach Boys reunited. It shows they’ve patched up their differences. But did they need to record another new album? No, not really. Maybe if they had just done one new song, or some kind of experimental suite… But no, that would be too daring. I still love The Beach Boys with all my heart, but let’s just hope they make the right decision and retire the name before they become a further parody of themselves.

Favorite Tracks: “Isn’t it Time”, “That’s Why God Made the Radio”, “Think About the Days”

50 Things I Learned from Seeing The Beach Boys Live.

Yesterday I had the fine pleasure of seeing the legendary Beach Boys live at the Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, WA. Though I’m always hesitant to see a “Nostalgia Act” it’s hard to resist when it’s one of the greatest American bands of all time. So in honor of the show and the band’s 50th anniversary, here’s 50 things I learned from seeing The Beach Boys live.

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The Amazing Aging Process

The Amazing Spider-Man

With the The Avengers already assembled and The Dark Knight‘s rise looming, I wouldn’t blame anyone for deciding to overlook the filler content that is this year’s Spider-Man movie. After all, the first Spider-Man came out 10 years ago, alongside Men in Black II, and it’s been just five years since Spider-Man 3. It’s way too damn early to reboot this franchise, but Sony sure doesn’t want Disney getting control of the character, so here we go again.

You know the story already: Nerd gets bitten by radioactive spider, gets super powers, learns great power comes with great responsibility, stops the only other super person in the city who coincidentally showed up at the same time. The Amazing Spider-Man is almost exactly the same movie that came out 10 years ago. The special FX are better, the whimsy has been replaced by angst, but really, not enough was changed to justify this film’s existence.

Peter is no played by Andrew Garfield, that guy from The Social Network. He’s fine in the role, I feel like the witty side of the character comes more naturally to him, although he’s not as good at being a nerd. That’s not really an issue, since the Peter Parker really isn’t a nerd at all, just a dude with a skateboard who’s really smart. Perhaps that’s why he attracts the interest of Gwen Stacey, now played by Emma Stone, who, having tasted that sweet, sweet Jessie Eisenberg already, clearly needed to experience the other half of The Social Network duo. Gwen is one of a few changes to make the film more like the comics, a list which also includes Flash Thompson and Peter somewhat becoming friends and Spider-Man building webshooters instead of having that as a power.

Early on the film suggests Peter Parker’s real parents were important for some reason, but, sensing that making the boy’s life so dramatic was a mistake, that backstory is never paid off. He’s still raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) who this time aren’t a million years old. The evil scientist is Dr. Connors instead of Norman Osborn, but he still is a scientist at Oscorp that thinks he’s going to lose it all, so he uses his super human serum on himself, turning into the Lizard, a creepy giant monster. His plans never make any sense, but who cares.

I just couldn’t get over how beat-for-beat identical this movie was to the Spider-Man movie from my youth. They even felt they had to include a scene before the final fight where the good people of New York rally together to support the webhead in his moment of need. This reboot was made as if we had all forgotten about the Spider-Man films of yesteryear, like we had no idea who this guy was. I don’t get that approach. What if every time they changed the James Bond actor they did an origin story? That sounds silly right? So why is it OK with Spider-Man?

I hate watching Fox and Sony and whoever isn’t Disney fuck around with these Marvel properties because they know they can make money and don’t want Marvel to get them back. And I hate The Amazing Spider-Man the most because it makes me feel so old. If I was 10 years younger I know I’d be all about this, because I was so about the first movie. There’s nothing wrong with The Amazing Spider-Man – it’s acted well, the special FX are great, it’s what you look for in a summer super hero blockbuster – except it shouldn’t exist.

Stagnant Youth

Metric – Synthetica

Fantasies, Metric’s 2009 album, was considered a breakthrough for the group. And it deserves that reputation, as it made the band into one I deemed worthy of my continuing affection, or at least interest. Now it’s a few years later and the band has turned into the kind of group that does music for movies like Twilight and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I guess they’re kind of a big deal. Synthetica, Metric’s first new album since getting really popular, sadly feels more like it should have been the album that came before Fantasies, not after it.

Not to say I dislike Synthetica, but it just isn’t as good as the last album. A lot of it feels like the band pre-Fantasies, a pseudo-new wave pop sound driven by tight drums and guitar, with a fair share of keyboards. It goes for the same big, flashy sound that worked so well last time, but just can’t get that large. If this had come out before Fantasies, I’d be talking about how excited I was for the next album. Instead, I’m a little worried about the direction they’re going in, as they don’t seem to be making much progress.

That’s a problem of mine, I can’t enjoy the present for fear of the future. It’s why I’m losing interest in the still-mostly-solid Modern Family and was so frustrated by The Amazing Spider-Man. Taken out of context, Synthetica really isn’t an album I can complain about. Most of the songs are nice and hooky, and flow beautifully between each other, except for “The Wanderlust,” which has a jarring Lou Reed appearance. Even that song is great on it’s own. It’s all about context. Eating a chocolate cake is delicious. Eating a chocolate cake after you just finished eating another chocolate cake is torture.

Favorite Tracks: “Artificial Nocturne,” “Breathing Underwater,” “The Void”